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Theatre review: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
By SUSAN ELKIN, The Stage
September 15, 2011

The very hungry caterpillar, who famously eats his way through the days of the week and – literally – through the book which created him in 1969, before he turns into a beautiful butterfly, is now beloved of two – or maybe three, in some families – generations. So anyone who takes on the challenge of moving him into theatre is faced with all the practical problems of keeping the story totally recognisable.

A scene from The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford
Jim Morrow and his team deserve ten out ten for the authenticity of a show which uses ultraviolet light and stick or rod handle puppets to capture Eric Carle’s bright colours and simplicity. We see the caterpillar munching his fruit as the week progresses and getting fatter before he pupates. In other parts of the show – because this is really a three-parter with Carle’s Little Cloud and The Mixed Up Chameleon – we see the stick puppet clouds turning into different shapes. And the waddling, fly-eating chameleon is fun in his different coloured incarnations and fantasies.

Carle’s engaging stories are impeccably narrated – recorded – by the warm-voiced Gordon Pinsent and all the movement is accompanied by music with sparky little references to folk tune, JS Bach, Beethoven, steel pan, jazz, samba and much more. Every visual movement sits in the music as precisely as it would in a classical ballet.

The charm-filled piece is, children and adults are told at the beginning, ‘a non shushing show’. In other words the people on stage are happy to hear their audience – a nice touch. It ends with a short question and answer session. Performers Mary Rebecca Russell and John Allen Maclean, together with stage manager Shawn Sorensen, use it to show the children – for example, how the foam rubber puppets look without the ‘black’ light.

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What Theatre Can Learn from a Ravenous Caterpillar
from the website Spoonfed.co.uk
September 13, 2011

The auditorium is filled with ultra-violet light. On the stage in front of us vivid colours glow out of the gloom. Noise mounts in the crowded building, the performers can be heard approaching the stage, there is a palpable sense of rising excitement.

Not the heady sights and sounds of a club night, but observations of the first performance of Mermaid Theatre’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Rose Theatre, where the toddler contingent of Kingston is out in full force. This mesmerising and interactive display of puppetry, light and music not only prompts thoughts about how other children’s theatre companies might take note, but also how theatre for adults could learn a few tricks from this ravenous little caterpillar.

One element of the Mermaid Theatre experience that stands out, aside from the stunning puppetry, is the noise. An announcement at the beginning of the performance informs us that this is a ‘no-shushing’ show, allowing the children to engage as vocally as they like with the material on the stage while refraining from the old pantomime trick of prompting the audience into responses.

For Jim Morrow, the director and production designer behind the show, this is an important element of his approach to children’s theatre. “The ‘no-shushing’ thing was my idea,” he explains with obvious pride. “I think it’s important to let children engage and interact with the performance. You don’t usually get that in the theatre, you’re always being told to be quiet.” The same importance might be attached to interactivity in theatre for adults, where the very vocal audience reactions of ages past have been replaced by an expectation of silence, preventing theatregoers from taking a more active and participatory role in what is being presented on stage.

As The Very Hungry Caterpillar demonstrates, giving freedom to audience members adds another layer to the viewing experience, allowing theatregoers to bring a new element to the show and make every performance different. A comedy stand-up show is often only as good as its participants and hecklers, while the Good Bad Movie Club at Prince Charles Cinema invites witty viewers to improve the awful films it screens with their own scathing comments; why not let theatre audiences enhance performances with their involvement?

Theatre is beginning to move in this direction by exploring more interactive and inclusive modes of performance, often directly involving audience members in the on-stage action. One such show is Lifegame, a piece of improvised theatre created by theatre company Improbable, which bases each night’s performance around the details shared by guests taken from the audience. Such an approach ensures that each performance is unique and allows the audience to dictate the direction of the evening by contributing to the content of the show albeit in a structured and prompted way.

“When you’re a child you’re so free and uninhibited,” Morrow observes. As theatregoers we grow up and lose that sense of freedom, inquisitiveness and desire for interaction, impulses that are ‘shushed’ out of us. Thanks to these acquired inhibitions and the theatregoing conventions that demand utter silence from audience members, we have taught ourselves out of being active viewers and have to be coaxed out of our shells by performers like those involved in Lifegame.

If The Very Hungry Caterpillar is, as Morrow hopes, the kind of show that will introduce younger generations to the theatre and keep them coming back, then it could inspire a new kind of freer, more interactive theatre, where traditional boundaries between audience and performer begin to disintegrate. Following the lead of other art forms, there is room for theatre makers to allow audiences the freedom to enhance their show without being prompted or restricted. Perhaps we all need to take our cue from Mermaid Theatre and learn to be children again every once in a while.

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Commentaires en français PDF 

La chenille qui fait des trous et autres petits contes
Brève scène – Philippe Couture
ARTICLE – 27 mai 2010

Le spectacle du Mermaid Theatre de Nouvelle-Écosse propose d’observer les amusantes métamorphoses d’un nuage, d’un caméléon et d’une chenille affamée. Trois contes d’Eric Carle, fables sur la croissance, l’apprentissage et la découverte du monde, y sont portés par la voix d’un narrateur (Jean-François Casabonne), pendant que des marionnettistes invisibles (John Allen MacLean et Mary Rebecca Russell, dirigés par Jim Morrow) manipulent des marionnettes aux couleurs vives. Au plus près du style littéraire original, cette pièce a des airs de grand livre animé d’illustrations naïves et éclatantes. Les ultraviolets devant lesquels les marionnettistes s’effacent font croire à l’impossible: ces personnages de mousse et de carton-pâte semblent vivants. Toutefois, suscitant plus volontiers l’émerveillement que les capacités d’imagination du spectateur, la pièce ne craint pas la redite et semble s’adresser davantage aux tout-petits qu’aux 3 à 7 ans.

http://www.voir.ca/publishing/article.aspx?zone=1&section=8&article=71134


Theatre review: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
By KATHRYN GREENAWAY, The Montreal Gazette

May 28, 2010

A children’s theatre performance can be an unpredictable experience. And that is part of the joy.

Youngsters, especially of the preschool variety, are often unfamiliar with live-theatre etiquette, which can make for lively comments and conversations during a show.

Such was the case when a full house of 3-to 7-year-olds showed up for a Wednesday performance of Mermaid Theatre’s La Chenille qui fait des trous -the black-light puppet production from Nova Scotia that closes Maison Theatre’s season.

The French play is actually translated versions of three children’s stories written by Eric Carle, narrated by Jean-Francois Casabonne and directed by Jim Morrow.

First comes The Little Cloud, then comes The Mixed-up Chameleon and then comes The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The youngsters at Wednesday’s show were already humming with anticipation when they filed into the theatre, so when a pre-show announcement encouraged them to participate in the storytelling, all bets were off.

Children chatted, applauded, wiggled with glee and laughed loud and long. So enthusiastic was their response, the narration occasionally got lost in the shuffle.

This is not a complaint. On the contrary, the spontaneous brouhaha added to the charm of the experience.

Carle’s simple stories are perfectly delightful.

Embedded with lessons about cooperation, self-confidence and growing up, the stories were effortlessly reproduced by puppeteers Mary Rebecca Russell and John Allen Maclean, who manipulated Morrow’s cast of rod puppets, which were inspired by Carle’s brilliantlycoloured book illustrations.

Each story involved transformations of some sort or another and the children embraced the visual surprises with loud approval.

The little cloud transformed into a sheep and a shark and endless other shapes before merging with his elder clouds to create a rain cloud.

The mixed-up chameleon appropriated his favourite body parts from zoo animals until he became a fantastical, unrecognizable mishmash of a creature.

Steven Naylor’s playful music plays a crucial role in setting the tone and emotion of the play.

Putting it all together -puppets, puppeteers, music, text, narration and audience -and the Wednesday experience was utterly charming. A breath of fresh air generated by performers and public alike.

La Chenille qui fait des trous, presented by Mermaid Theatre, is on until June 6 at Maison Theatre, 245 Ontario St. E. Tickets remain for the June 6 performance at 1 p.m. Tickets cost $18.75 for adults and $14.75 for children and are available at the box office, 514-288-7211 or online, www.maisontheatre.qc.ca.

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Mermaid Theatre’s clever puppets serve beloved books well
By CHRIS JONES, Chicago Tribune
April 13, 2010

Among the more literary members of the under-6 set, Eric Carle is a rock star.

With a full stomach as a prerequisite and a warm lap as a destination, these discriminating small folks nuzzle down with “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” with the same kind of relish that the hero applies to the noshing down of juicy fruits. And if caterpillar has morphed into butterfly and eyelids have yet to droop, there’s always the “The Mixed-Up Chameleon” (a designation that could apply to many of the adults doing the reading) and “Little Cloud,” about a tiny burst of condensation who wants to be a full-on rainmaker. And don’t we all.

Carle’s books (beloved since the early 1970s) are a combination of words and collage-style art. But like a lot of preschool literature, they are tough to adapt to the stage. For one thing, when it comes to textual length, we’re not exactly talking “The Great Gatsby.” And we don’t become intimately acquainted with the protagonist’s’ darkest desires, assuming he has any, beyond the biting of the right number of fruit over the right number of days.

The Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia (they love Carle in Nova Scotia and Carle loves them right back) overcome all these obstacles with the same kind of simplicity and calm that characterizes Carle’s oeuvre.

Here’s what you get from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites,” which was created by Jim Morrow and has been brought to town by the Chicago Children’s Theatre. Your ears hear the texts read aloud with musical accouterments. Your eyes see a very charming little black-lit show featuring florescent puppets (caterpillar, chameleon, cloud), all crawling, hopping and floating around an environment that looks exactly like those books, brought to life. This is an authorized affair, and it has been touring around the world for years.

On Sunday at the Field Museum, two particularly nice things were evident. One was the way in which the puppets did their thing (the caterpillar ate an apple, say) before it was read. That allowed for a room full of precocious intellects to enjoy beating the tardy taped voice to the punch, often almost drowning it out. The other was the way the puppeteers (company policy: no secrets) popped out at the end of 50 minutes and offered to show anyone and everyone how they did anything and everything.

And to a chorus of oohs and aahs, that’s exactly what they did.

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A Review of The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Eric Carle Favorites
Chicago Now – Wee Windy City Blog
Caitlin Giles – April 13 2010

Last Saturday, I took my nearly four-year-old son and not-quite six-year-old daughter to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Eric Carle Favorites performed by the Mermaid Theater Company of Nova Scotia and presented by the Chicago Children’s Theatre at the Field Museum.

The 50-minute show includes 3 of Eric Carle’s familiar children’s stories: Little Cloud, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and The Very Hungary Caterpillar. Each story is told through the magic of florescent puppets and black light — and trust me — this show has lots of magic.

One of my little theater-goers (I am not going to name names) was a bit apprehensive about seeing this puppet show because of some prior experiences that left a bad impression (I am talking about you, terrifying puppets from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory!)

However, everything about this show was fabulous and it truly was a theater experience for children. We were immediately put at ease when the announcer declared that this was a “no shushing show.” Kids were free to laugh and comment and say the words to the story along with the narrator (as it should be with children’s theatre performances).

The imagery in the show was really amazing. The puppets and scenery were absolutely true to Eric Carle’s original illustrations, but with an added dramatic dimension. For example, as the caterpillar eats his way through mountains of food, he periodically pauses and looks at the audience in a quizzical, lighthearted way. The chameleon puppet had a similar charm. The characters successfully convey a sense of personality as they move around stage and interact with the audience.

This show is recommended for children ages 3-6. My four-year-old son loved anticipating what was coming next based on his knowledge of these familiar stories. My almost-six-year-old daughter spent most of the show trying to figure out how the puppets and scenery were moving around the stage. Based on our experience, I think that children up to age 8 would actually love this performance.

Our favorite part of the show came at the end when the puppeteers took questions from the little audience members and explained the magic behind the show’s fascinating illusions. The kids were riveted by the explanations and demonstrations of the technical tricks used throughout the show (I found it pretty interesting as well).

If I were going to be nitpicky, I would have to admit that I thought that the artificial grass surface that the majority of the audience sits on was pretty itchy and uncomfortable. The show also started 10 minutes late and when you are dealing with audience members who have extremely short attention spans, 10 minutes matters. But other than those two insignificant complaints, I whole-heartedly recommend this show for families with young children.

The show runs through May 2nd at the Field Museum. The Chicago Children’s Theatre asks that audience members bring canned or dried goods to donate to The Greater Chicago Food Depository. Those who contribute will be entered to win a gift basket. Tickets are $25 for children age 12 and under and $35 for adults (ticket price includes post-show museum access). Visit the Chicago Children’s Theatre website to more info on how to purchase tickets for your little theatre-lovers.

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VIDA! MONTERREY FORUM 2007
Secrets of a Magic Caterpillar Revealed
EL NORTE, Monterrey, Mexico
Sunday, November 11, 2007

Canadian company presents a colourful puppet show which amazes children; it returns to the stage today

“Oooooooh!”
Although the show itself had finished, the children’s amazement continued.
This was because the Canadian troupe, which uses fluorescent puppets to bring the show “The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Favourites of Eric Carle” to life, agreed yesterday to interact with the public, astonishing mothers, fathers and children with an explanation of their special effects. The play presented by the Canadian company Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia was staged yesterday in the Theatre Tent of the Fundidora Park, at the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures in Monterrey.

“How do you make the rain?”, “How does the chameleon put its tongue out?”, “How does the caterpillar eat the fruit?” Questions were posed by the audience after the presentation of three stories in which the protagonists were a small travelling cloud, a likeable chameleon, and a very greedy caterpillar. The children also enjoyed a whole luminous parade of zoo animals including an elephant, a giraffe, a fox, a deer, a bear, a tortoise, a flamingo, a fish and a seal.

“For the effect of the rain in the story about the cloud, the drops are painted with fluorescent paint on a black cloth, which is rolled and hooked up; when it rains in the story the cloth is slowly lowered and unrolled,” said one of the artists of the company.
The demonstration included an explanation of the changing colours of the chameleon, who tries to look like each one of the zoo animals in the story.

The artists, directed by Jim Morrow, explained the mechanical operation of the animal, who captivated the audience with its soft eyes, as well as demonstrating the figures and colours which bring the little animal to life. “There are seven in total,” commented one of the artists.

The secret of how the chameleon puts its tongue out to eat a fly was also revealed to the young spectators. Another effect, the way in which the greedy caterpillar ate each strawberry and orange that it found in its path as it moved along before finally being transformed into a colourful butterfly, was demonstrated. It was explained that each fruit has a pair of “doors” on its sides that open as the little animal goes by. The fluorescent colours of the figures stand out thanks to the techniques used to make the stage dark.

The stories of the company have been translated into 35 languages. With the help of the Mexican theatre actor Marco Ledezma, a resident of Québec, the stories had previously been narrated and recorded in Spanish in order to offer a very high quality production. The show was enjoyed especially by preschoolers and children in the lower elementary grades.

Tickets for the play, which is presented today at noon, cost 30 pesos and are available from Superboletos at 8220-4100 or from the box offices in the Park. The Theatre Tent is behind the entrance to the Cineteca building.

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The Puppets Came to Life
A Caterpillar Captured Attention
MILENIO, Monterrey, Mexico
By Ángel Sánchez Borges
Monday, November 12, 2007

Phosphorescent light unfolds colours against a black background, creating a marvellous display of shapes and effects and giving a unique dimension to the puppets of Mermaid Theatre. This was neither a movie nor a digital animation, however, but a puppet show that captivated children in attendance at the Puppet Tent of the Forum of Cultures.

The story of a caterpillar transformed into a butterfly left children open-mouthed as they managed to persuade members of the Canadian troupe to explain how the show works, finally revealing the secret of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Favourites of Eric Carle, the title of the show.

The story relates the history of a tiny caterpillar who eats and eats in order to keep on growing and ends by changing into a beautiful butterfly. A whole world emerges from the black light: animals, clouds, a plane, which all come into view and develop the story as it is narrated in Spanish.

This generation of children is clearly very familiar with animation, whether it be digital or on the screen; the story of the caterpillar, the chameleon and the little cloud which was presented this weekend in the Forum aroused much curiosity, especially during two scenes: the rain and the moment at which the chameleon eats a fly.

The show presented by the Canadian troupe is so beautiful that there were occasional cries of amazement from the children; it was as if the images were really alive. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of those puppet shows in which it is easy to forget that someone is working behind the scenes and it is possible to make the story one’s own and, above all, to believe in the small imaginary world.

The bad news is that this incredible show was presented last weekend only; however, it is certainly one of the most impressive that has been presented on stage at the Forum.

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